Illini Defense Suffocates Rutgers in Big Ten Opening Win

Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer

December 2, 2023

Terrence Shannon Jr and Amani Hansberry courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Piscataway, N.J. — For the first time since 2010, Illinois has won its Big Ten Conference opener away from home.

The No. 24 Illini lived up to everything in their reputation in the non-conference play suggested as they arrived at Jersey Mikes Arena as the best in the nation in field goal percentage defense, No. 2 in the country in rebounds and No. 9 in the nation in scoring defense. Illinois held Rutgers without a field goal for the first six minutes and contained the home Scarlet Knights to 33.3 percent shooting in a dominating 76-58 victory.

Terrance Shannon Jr., a preseason All-Big Ten first-team selection, produced a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds while also posting three assists and two blocks in 37 minutes. Shannon, a projected NBA draft pick, came in averaging 21.5 points over the last four games and was averaging 19.5 points per game overall - the third-best mark in the Big Ten Conference. Marcus Domask finished with 15 points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes.

Rutgers failed to have a single player reach double figures in scoring and was led by wing Aundre Hyatt’s frustrating afternoon of nine points on 11 field goal attempts.

The Illini opened on a 14-2 run over the first five minutes of the contest and survived a Rutgers run late in the first half after Illinois’ frontcourt suffered a bit of foul trouble. Rutgers (5-2, 0-1 in Big Ten) used a 18-9 run to complete the first half as Illinois struggled with Steve Pikiell’s full-court pressure early on. However, Illinois went on a 26-8 run over the first 12 minutes of the second half to allow themselves to cruise to a comfortable road win.

Coleman Hawkins, who was a huge part of Rutgers center Clifford Omoruyi only posting seven points on 10 field goal attempts and Rutgers only having 26 points in the paint, played only six minutes in the first half after returning from a recurring knee injury. The Illini senior forward would play every second of a second half where the visitors held Rutgers to just 22 points in the last 20 minutes of play.

Illinois was 9 of 21 from 3-point range on Saturday including five different players making a shot from beyond the arc. Brad Underwood’s Illini team came into this weekend leading the nation in two defensive categories via KemPom.com: effective field goal percentage defense and two-point defense. The Illini defense forced Rutgers to miss 34 of 47 shots from inside the arc while the Illinois offense shot 21 of 45 from inside the arc.

Illinois (6-1, 1-0 in Big Ten Conference) has now claimed just the seventh win in Rutgers’ home arena in Piscataway over the last two seasons as Pikiell’s club is 47-12 at home over the past four campaigns.

Illinois was coming off of three dominant victories inside State Farm Center over Valparaiso, Southern, and Western Illinois, winning by an average margin of 27.7 points, and posting three straight games with 50 or more rebounds for the first time since Dec. 10-18, 1993. The Illini finished Saturday afternoon with 55 rebounds against Rutgers - one of the Big Ten’s most physical opponents.

Illinois will remain on the East Coast for a neutral-site matchup Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against 13th-ranked Florida Atlantic as part of the Jimmy V Classic before returning to campus to prepare for a road battle at No. 10 Tennessee next Saturday.

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